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Android Phones to Power NASA’s New Fleet of Mini-Satellites

PhoneSat 1.0 on High-altitude Balloon Test

Source: PhoneSat 1.0 on High-altitude Balloon Test | NASA

Although the media is tagging along the Mars Curiosity Rover, NASA is launching another experiment later this year. The research agency’s team at Ames Research center in Moffett Field, California is working to launch miniature satellites with Android phones at the helm.

The project is called PhoneSat, which is a part of a larger experiment called CubeSat Initiative. This project incorporates small consumer electronics into working nanosatellites. Although a launch date is yet to be announced, it was reported that three PhoneSat units will be rocket-bound sometime in late 2012.

Inside PhoneSat’s Two-design Plan

NASA’s Space Technology Program stated that the team built two nanosatellite prototype models. These units will be launched at different times.

The team will observe the first model, dubbed PhoneSat 1.0, to know whether a mini-satellite with a smartphone can survive a short time in space. It will carry a Google Nexus One, and the pieces of satellite include external batteries and radio beacon. The unit will also have a watchdog circuit that will monitor the system and reboot the Nexus if necessary.

All of these will be packed in a 10 x 10 x 10 cm CubeSat shell. Three units of PhoneSat 1.0 will be manufactured, with each clocked at 4 lbs. It will be carried to the space with an Antares rocket, a low-orbiting rocket that can carry up to 15,000 lbs.

After that, the team will launch the more advanced PhoneSat 2.0. It will have the improved capabilities of PhoneSat 1.0, and it will use the Samsung Nexus S. The satellite’s design will include a two-way, S-band radio, solar arrays, and a GPS receiver. Additionally, it will have are magnetorquer coils and reaction wheels to control the unit’s orientation in space.

People from the ground will be able to give PhoneSat 2.0 commands through the radio, while the solar panels will allow the unit to take on a longer mission.

PhoneSat: To Infinity and Beyond

NASA’s PhoneSat project shows that consumer devices can be used in larger space exploration experiments. It will also decrease development cost for future small-spacecraft projects conducted by the research agency.

The team are eyeing to use PhoneSats in future missions such as moon exploration, low-cost Earth observations, and testing of new technologies and components for space flights. In fact, another mission set for 2013 is planning to use the PhoneSat 2.0 to conduct heliophysics measurement.

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